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Home on the farm: Hercules' Haven offers sanctuary for unwanted animals

Juno the sheep seems to think she is a dog.

On a recent afternoon at Hercules’ Haven, a farm animal sanctuary on the outskirts of Cedar Rapids, Juno followed her “parents,” Haven founders Alison and Danny Stone, around the property, trotting at their heels and approaching guests to say hi and nibble on their coats. When she saw the Stone’s dogs, they barked at her, and she cantered over to play with them, jumping and butting heads with Hermes the border collie. Later she jumped up on the patio furniture for a rest.

When the Stones went inside their house on the property, she stood at the door, staring in, silently asking to be included.

“She can come in when she’s potty trained,” Alison Stone laughed.

After all, that’s what allows Hercules, a potbellied pig, to live in the house. The farm’s namesake and mascot, he is a large part of the reason the Stones started Hercules’ Haven in the first place.

After they purchased their 4.3 acre mini-farm off Mount Vernon Road two years ago, people started calling to see if they could take in unwanted animals. When Hercules was born, his mother pushed him and two other piglets away and stopped caring for them. Though his two siblings died, the Stones were able to save Hercules. That was over a year ago — he is now far from the helpless baby that needed feeding every two hours. These days, the 34-pound pig enjoys sleeping by the fireplace on cold winter days with his cat siblings nearby and snacking on strawberries.

Hercules wasn’t the first animal the Stones took in, but after they saved him, they thought, ‘We can keep doing this.’

“That was really the moment, when we were able to save this jelly bean of a critter,” Danny Stone said.

And so Hercules’ Haven was born. Now, the sanctuary cares for about 50 animals, including around 25 chickens and ducks. Along with the fowl, Hercules and Juno the sheep, there are more pigs, goats and horses.

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“All the animals have a story,” Alison said. “All the animals were unwanted.”

There is Babe, who was just a piglet when he fell off a truck and survived skidding across the pavement of Interstate 80. There is Finnegan the mini-horse, who was rescued from a hoarding situation. They found Juno as a baby at a Kalona farm auction, in a crate next to three dying calves. There is Tessa, the former racehorse who might have been slaughtered after her career ended, rescued with the help of Unbridled Spirits Thoroughbred Retirement Ranch in Lisbon.

“It’s so heartbreaking, because she was raced until she had a blown hip. And even beautiful race horses get destroyed.” Danny “She doesn’t know how to be a horse. She went from track to stall.”

The Stones got 501(c) (3) status for their farm in August. Danny estimates they spent $10,000 last year on veterinarian bills, food and other supplies. They sold off their camper to pay some of the vet bills.

“It’s just what you do,” he said. “But with the donor base that’s growing, we’re breathing much easier now.”

This spring and summer, they plan to hold open barn days for guests to come visit the farm and meet the animals, with a suggested donation of $5 for kids and $10 for adults. They’re also planning a fundraiser concert for June in their lower pasture, as well as a volunteer orientation this spring.

“We’d like to have groups come out and learn and connect,” Alison said. “It’s therapeutic, I think, to be around these guys.”

Danny agreed.

“This property is beautiful. We wanted to share it,” he said. “We have a two part mission — helping animals and helping people.”

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They’ve seen the community help them as well, with donors spending thousands of dollars to purchase needed supplies from their Amazon wish list — everything from horse treats to coats that helped keep the goats warm on frigid winter nights.

They are at capacity for horses, but this spring hope to add capacity for more pigs, with the help of an Eagle Scout who is planning to build them more pig enclosures.

Both the Stones have full time jobs. Alison is a nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, and Danny is a youth director at Faith Lutheran Church in Marion.

“A lot of my friends spend hours and hours watching football. And I spend hours shoveling poop. It’s a hoot,” he said.

Their daughter Issy, 14, helps out, as does Alison’s mother Karen Davis. A licensed therapist, she plans to offer therapy-related programming on the farm.

Danny said they’ve had encounters with people who tell them they’re foolish to dedicate so much to these animals. “What’s the point? You can’t save them all,” people have said.

What makes it worth it to them?

“Watching her,” Alison said, gesturing to Juno as she frolicked with their dogs. “Watching what we’re doing right now, and seeing the horses run free. Looking in these guy’s eyes is enough for me.”

Get involved

• What: Hercules’ Haven

• Where: 1220 Lilly St., Cedar Rapids

• Details: (319) 743-8466 or (319) 743-5990; herculeshaven.org

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.